(The Center Square) – A new study indicates COVID-19’s impact on transportation habits in Illinois and around the country could linger far into the future.
Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago and Arizona State University recently conducted a nationwide survey asking nearly 9,000 adults about work, travel, and social habits since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people actually like to work from home,” said Dr. Sybil Derrible, co-principle investigator and UIC associate professor of civil, materials, and environmental engineering. “And many people who had the opportunity to work from home during the pandemic expect that they’ll be able to work from home several days a week after the pandemic as well. That’s a radical, radical shift.”
The study indicates a decline of up to 40% in commuter vehicle trips and more open seats on mass transit systems are likely in the post-pandemic world.
“Transit was hit dramatically during COVID and it will probably have to adapt in a post-COVID world because people won’t use transit five days a week,” Derrible said. “People might not purchase a monthly pass, like they used to. For me, the question is how is transit going to respond to the decline in ridership.”
As of May, reports indicate that CTA buses and trains in Chicago are carrying about one-third of their pre-pandemic levels. Metra commuter rail service was at 13% of May 2019 levels, with officials hoping to reach 30% of pre-pandemic ridership by the end of 2021.
Derrible said that a drop in in-person work leads to another big conversation about what’s going to happen with land use in downtown areas.
“If a lot of people now don’t go to the office five days a week and only go three days a week, they might not need a permanent desk,” Derrible said. “We don’t know whether that means that there’s going to be less demand for office space or not.”
More than 70% of respondents indicated they’ll change their lives in some way based on what they faced during the pandemic.
“Most people who used to travel very frequently for business now expect that they’ll do with much more videoconferencing,” Derrible said. “That means from the airline perspective, they’ll have to also adjust their offers to expect fewer customers from business and more customers for leisure.”
The first-wave data has been made available to city planners, businesses, researchers, and others who might have an interest in the findings.
“There’s talk of an urban exodus,” Derrible said. “We didn’t see really strong evidence of that. It appears there was an over-demand for real estate, for residential housing in cities, before the pandemic. The pandemic might have actually corrected things a little bit.”
A series of follow-up surveys with the same panel is planned to track additional changes in behavior. The second wave of questions is complete and data should be available over the summer.
For information on the survey, visit covidfuture.org.